Shops Taking Action to Boost Business, Help Employees and Community

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Zara’s Collision Center, in Springfield, IL, is trying to use clever messages it its social media to let people know how the shop is continuing to safely serve them during the pandemic.

Collision repairers around the country aren’t sitting still as business conditions continued to evolve as summer began.

Here’s a cross-country tour of what’s happening as shops around the U.S. respond to the pandemic and its economic fallout.

Helping employees and the community

Shops continue to be generous in their efforts to help out their employees, their customers and their community.

Zach DeGroot, manager of Riverbend Body Shop in Grand Rapids, MI, said the shop covered some of the costs for police vehicle repairs after about a dozen such vehicles were damaged during rioting that followed a protest to denounce the death of George Floyd.

DeGroot said the shop has always tried to do something extra on customers’ vehicles in for repairs, but is also trying to step that up, offering free detailing or “repairing unrelated damage on adjacent panels for customers so they do not have to pay out of pocket.”

Christy Jones of R Jones Collision 1 in Des Moines, IA, offered a “pay it forward” campaign in which each of the shop’s customers in May and June received a $25 gift certificate to a local restaurant, and could designate a charity to receive a $50 donation from the shop.

“We’re offering employees later start times so they can help with family or household needs,” the owner of a Chicago area shop said. “We’re offering them four 10-hour days, if that helps, and with that, we’re actually seeing more customer volume in the evening hours.”

Auto Craft Collision Center in Kewaskum, WI, extended through June a 10% discount, up to $250, it began offering customers earlier this spring.

Carney Cataldo of Cataldo’s Collision in Dubois, PA, gave all employees a $1,000 bonus.

A shop in the Pacific Northwest supplemented its painters’ wages to help ease the downturn in flat-rate hours, and an Arizona shop has given commission employees a guaranteed minimum salary equivalent to four days of work, and isn’t requiring them to work more than four days a week.

A working manager at a shop in Iowa is letting the shop’s other technicians do more of the production work while he spends more time in the office getting supplements handled, “to keep cash flow up and make sure all the bills are paid and we still make money.”

At Zara’s Collision Center, in Springfield, IL, “We are upholding our commitment to bringing new talent into our industry by hiring full-time a recent high school graduate who had completed a semester-long internship during the pandemic,” shop owner Brad Zara said. “We have also brought on another recent graduate for a summer internship even though business is down.”

Adam Reiter of Golden’s Paint & Body Shop in Hot Springs, AR, said the shop has continued to spend all reimbursement the shop has received for added “COVID-19 cleaning” of vehicles to buy gift cards for local businesses through a chamber of commerce program that also matches the funds to buy groceries for displaced workers.

“Five thousand dollars has been raised by our shop,” Reiter said. “The gift cards will be used as prizes for customers and bonuses for employees.”

Shifts in marketing

Zara and Reiter are also among the shops reporting a variety of changes in their marketing efforts given what’s happening in their area.

Reiter said he brought in a film crew to shoot a new television ad after the shop was “deeply cleaned and completely repainted.”

“We have been utilizing clever messages on our Facebook page to let people know that we are continuing to safely serve them throughout the pandemic,” Zara said.

Todd Doyle of Arrowhead Auto Body in Hermantown, MN, has taken a different approach.

“We had changed our radio and TV ads to COVID-related topics, telling customers that we are open and how we are cleaning for their safety,” Doyle said. “But we have changed back all our advertising to our normal ads because I'm personally sick of all the ads talking about COVID.”

John Naylor, an estimator and manager at Heritage Collision Center in Sherman, TX, said the shop has stepped up efforts to encourage and thank customers for posting online reviews.

Josh Smith, operations manager at Collision Specialists in Jackson, TN, said although the shop doesn’t like photo-based estimates, it is doing some as a selling tool.

One California shop owner said he is contacting more mechanical repair shops to exchange customer referrals. Another said she has made sure all her employees “have business cards and are encouraged to hand them out.”

The direct repair coordinator at a two-shop collision repair business in Pennsylvania said he’s getting more involved with several community Facebook pages.

“Believe it or not, it helps immensely,” he said.

Mask policies vary

Among more than 200 shops responding to a survey in June, about 30% were requiring customers to wear masks to enter the shop office.

“The door is locked; people have to ring a bell before they come in---with a mask,” said Bill McElroy of Bill McElroy Auto Body in Bensalem, PA.

Many shops said they are leaving it up to the customer to decide.

“Whatever they are comfortable with. Some do, some don't,” said Candace Dietzen, owner of The Body Shop of Barrington in Lake Barrington, IL.

“We have masks available for customers upon request,” said Tyler Perkins, collision center manager at Ford of Clermont in Florida.

“My employees have to wear masks whenever a customer enters,” a Georgia shop owner said.

But policies regarding masks appear to be in flux from shop to shop; several shops said they had been requiring customers to wear a mask earlier, but stopped at some point in June.

A shop owner in Oregon said he hadn’t been requiring it, but would if state policy called for it---something that went into effect in late June.

And the percentage requiring masks for customers is somewhat under-reported because at least 10% of those saying they don’t require a mask also said such a policy isn’t needed because customers aren’t being allowed inside.

“No one enters our building. We meet them in the parking lot in full PPE gear,” said Mike Kime of Kime Collision in Standish, MI. 

John Yoswick

John Yoswick is a freelance writer and Autobody News columnist who has been covering the collision industry since 1988, and the editor of the CRASH Network... Read More

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